Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Although akin to the naturalistic style of fiction emerging at the end of the nineteenth century, LIZA OF LAMBETH is not as relentlessly bleak as George Moore’s ESTHER WATERS or Theodore Dreiser’s SISTER CARRIE. Rather, the novel possesses a lightness of touch closest to the fiction of Guy de Maupassant, and W. Somerset Maugham has acknowledged that the book was modeled after the straightforward, realistic manner of Maupassant and was influenced by the socially conscious plays of Heinrick Ibsen. The novel presents an eloquent—if implied—picture of the need among the poor for birth control. The irony occasionally is heavy-handed, but the boisterous humor of the slum characters is usually amusing and always interesting. The scenes of the slum life of eighty years ago are vividly detailed.

Liza is a girl of spirit with a strong, if untutored, native intelligence. She possesses a vague desire to better herself and would like to marry (since she can think of no other fate than marriage for herself) someone better than any of the men she knows. Her inarticulate dissatisfactions, however, have no outlet other than Jim, the married man down the block. She is cornered by her place in society and by convention. Without even understanding her own feelings, she plunges ahead, hoping for the best, but not expecting it.

The only joy the people in the novel have is in basic physical pleasures: dancing and singing, running...

(The entire section is 484 words.)